A mum whose tales about friendly dragons helped her family face the double whammy of her cancer diagnosis and the pandemic is marking her remission from the disease by publishing her stories – sharing her fantasy with the world.
Charity volunteer, Jane Huddleston, 41, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma – a cancer affecting the lymphatic system – in March 2020, as England went into its first lockdown, after discovering a lump on her neck.
Facing the fear of her illness and the pandemic side-by-side, Jane, her engineer husband, John, 48, and their children Matthew, eight, and Charlotte, six, of Lancaster, Lancashire, desperately needed a distraction.
So, battening down the hatches to avoid catching Covid as she began six rounds of gruelling chemotherapy over five months the same month, she kept her family entertained by telling them mystical stories she had created when her children were younger about 10 dragons.
“The kids would always ask to hear about the 10 dragons when they were younger,” laughed Jane.
“There’s a hill near us that looks like a sleeping dragon, so we’d make up stories about the dragons and what they would get up to.”
She added: “It just transformed into a regular ongoing story we would tell, that changed with the kids’ imaginations. But there were always 10 dragons, two of which were called Theo and Bob, who were always a constant theme.”
After being told she was cancer free in August 2020, just after her 40th birthday, Jane – a project officer at Lancaster University – decided to celebrate her good news by sharing her stories with other families.
So, she has now published five books in the Sunburst City Dragon series, with proceeds going towards Home-Start UK, a charity dedicated to helping families in need, as well as Macmillan Cancer Support, Lymphoma Action and Lancaster-based CancerCare.
“I started volunteering at Home-Start UK in April 2019 and it was really special,” she said.
“So, I wanted to give children joy after my cancer diagnosis as well as help other parents, as it’s a hard job being a mum and any help you can give makes a huge difference.”
Looking back, Jane now realises the first signs of her illness were evident back in January 2019 when she was diagnosed with stress, leading to her quitting her job as a partnership development manager later that year, in November.
She said: “I was feeling really tired and unmotivated in 2019.
“I saw the doctor, who said I was struggling with stress. I didn’t feel like that was the case, but I decided to throw myself into improving my life.
“ I started volunteering at Home-Start UK, a charity that supports families in need.”
She added: “I trained in April 2019 and started working with a family for five months. It was really rewarding.
“Later in November 2019 I quit my job and temped while I figured out what I wanted to do.”
Then, when a lump on her neck had grown in January 2020 she went back to her GP.
Admitted to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary for further testing, Jane was devastated when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in March 2020.
“It was a shock,” she said.
“I wish it had been caught the year before as I was starting chemotherapy at the same time that this deadly virus was sweeping through the country.”
Starting six rounds of chemotherapy, Jane and her family shut the world out throughout her five months of treatment.
“At the beginning, we didn’t really know a lot about the virus,” said Jane.
“We sprayed everything with anti-viral spray and didn’t leave the house. We exercised in the garden and only went out for hospital appointments.”
She added: “It was a tough time. I would wear my husband’s engineering goggles with my mask when I went to the hospital – it was really scary.
“But there was also so much joy. We spent so much time as a family together. After my diagnosis, I just drank in every moment with the kids.
“There was a moment late one night when they wanted to watch the Lego movie. We all cuddled on the sofa and it was amazing.”
She added: “I looked at my husband and we just smiled. That’s what life is all about.”
And, after being told she was in remission in August 2020, Jane decided to mark the good news by turning her dragon tales into children’s books.
“I loved rhyming books when I was a kid,” she said.
She added: “After August, I started walking a lot. I wanted to get fit again and decided to complete 40 walks by the end of the year, as I had just turned 40.
“I would walk over our sleeping dragon hill and sit and think. It refreshed my brain and I started to think a lot about our 10 dragons.
“I didn’t want to die and be invisible. Cancer had changed my perspective, so I started writing rhyming stories about our dragons’ adventures.”
Finding a local illustrator, David Robinson, Jane published Theo’s birthday in December 2020 and has since released four other books in her Sunburst City Dragon series.
Now a Christmas dragon story, Jack’s Secret, is due to be released in November and a portion of the proceeds from all the books is going to charity.
“I started writing the stories down,” she said.
She added: “Then I set myself a goal of getting one published by Christmas, so I found illustrator David Robinson and we worked hard together to bring my vision to life.
“I wanted books with a retro feel that were joyous and colourful.
“I wanted to give something to families in need and, after my work with Home-Start UK, I decided to give a portion of the proceeds to them.”
She added: “I can’t believe I now have five published books and am releasing a Christmas dragon book in November. The rest of the 10 will be released in 2022.”
Best of all for Jane has been the reaction from her own children, Matthew and Charlotte.
“Matthew loves the books, His class at school is currently reading them,” she said.
She added: “It’s mad, but when Charlotte starts reciting the poems it feels me with so much joy that they enjoy it, too. They inspired it all and to see them loving the books and reading them is really special.”
Jane also hopes her books will inspire other mums to pursue their passions.
“The biggest lesson having cancer in lockdown has taught me is to stop being afraid. What is the worst that will happen?” she said.
She added: “If my books don’t do well it doesn’t matter, at least I’ll have tried. I didn’t want to leave this planet having achieved nothing of note in my career. I’m so glad I’ve done this.
“I’ve left my children something and even if I’m not around on their 18th birthday, hopefully I can still buy them a drink with the royalties.”